Jhenaidah, a municipality in Bangladesh, is certified as the first-ever municipality to meet international quality standards for faecal sludge management (FSM). Today, the city boasts of ISO 9001:2015-certified services, raising the standards of health and sanitation citywide.
Famous for dates, molasses, and bananas, Jhenaidah is located in the Khulna division of Southern Bangladesh. With a land area of more than 40 km2, Jhenaidah's population density per square kilometre is a little over 900 inhabitants. The city’s high population density places great stress on and challenges to maintaining a healthy environment; particularly because almost 80% of the population rely on-site technologies, septic tanks, and pits, which require regular emptying. Sadly, many of the city’s tanks and pits never get emptied or are fitted with drains that directly empty into open water bodies. Few people contract mechanical emptying services. Manual emptying by informal emptiers (or sweepers) continues to be practised at alarming levels, which are detrimental for human health and environment.
An ambition for quality and consistent FS services
Back in 2017, Jhenaidah Paurashava (JPS) took the exemplary action to revisit its faecal sludge management (FSM) services. In a bid to enhance the quality of its services, JPS decided to outsource its FSM services. Following a formal tender process, AID Foundation – a local NGO that aims to provide quality and effective services to city dwellers – was awarded the service contract. As per the contract, while AID Foundation (the service provider) was responsible to manage service delivery, their operations were subject to the Paurashava’s supervision and monitoring.
At the same time, the JPS decided to strengthen its own systems and capacity to deliver quality services consistently. To do so, the JPS started integrating procedures of quality assurance in development processes to enhance levels of consistency. In 2019, the JPS began following international standards of quality management systems, specifically the ISO 9001:2015, which covers aspects of efficiency, reliability, responsiveness, and transparency to boost the capacity to achieve (sanitation) service targets.
A hard-won victory
The ISO 9001:2015 certification is the world’s most prestigious recognition for Quality Management System (QMS) standards. It pushes organisations forward to ensure that the needs of their customers and other stakeholders are met more effectively.
The JPS had to undergo several phases to secure this ISO 9001:2015 certification. These include being introduced to the ISO certification’s standards (during the inception phase), undertaking gap analysis, participating in awareness trainings, documenting processes, and engaging in implementation and internal audits.
On 10 August 2020, all this hard work paid off, with all JPS celebrating this prestigious recognition – a first in the history of all municipalities in the country. During the certification ceremony, Mayor Saidul Karim Mintu credited the city’s residents and frontline sanitation workers for this achievement.
Now ISO-certified for consistency in the quality of services, the JPS now engages in the continual improvement of its FSM services. Ongoing activities include, seeking out the engagement of private operators for service delivery, developing monitoring mechanisms, and ensuring that all collected sludge is disposed of in treatment plants; in ways that are safe and keep the environment clean. The certification has also boosted the commitment level of JPS authorities to maintain a good working environment and proper documentation and reporting.
Nowhere to go but up
An ISO 9001:2015 certification is renewed every three years. Going forward, it is critical that the JPS sustains its progress in delivering quality services and conducting regular audits. Further, it is important to guarantee the safety of sanitation workers, as well as to ensure the availability of resources to match increasing demands, establish asset maintenance plans, conduct periodic testing of wastewater in faecal sludge treatment plants, and last but not the least, offer professional and responsive customer services and a customer feedback system.
There are, of course, several other ways to improve the effectiveness and quality of FSM services, while complying with ISO 9001:2015 standards. For example, the JPS is interested to expand its ‘certification horizon’ by exploring possibilities to adopt ISO 31800 for the safe processing of human waste and recovery of valuable resources (through the application of economically sustainable faecal sludge treatment technologies in off-grid and non-sewered environment).
Though ambitious, the Jhenaidah Paurashava proved to the rest of Bangladesh that achieving international standards of FSM services to keep the country’s cities clean and safe is possible. SNV, with the tremendous support of the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and city authorities, is privileged to continue its partnership with government and development partners to help mature the country’s urban sanitation system and facilities.
Author: Tanvir Chowdhury with input from Tahmina Haque, Communications & Knowledge Management Advisor, SNV in Bangladesh
Photos: SNV in Bangladesh
 To learn more about AID Foundation’s story, read: SNV in Bangladesh, Reframing the urban sanitation narrative: Stories of leadership and change in Bangladesh, The Hague, SNV, 2020, pp. 12-13, https://snv.org/cms/sites/default/files/explore/download/2020-reframing-urban-sanitation-narrative-bangladesh-storybook.pdf (accessed 27 September 2020).
 To know more about how Jhenaidah municipality guarantees and protects the safety of sanitation workers, read the blog: Safety for all: mainstreaming OHS and PPEs, https://snv.org/update/safety-all-mainstreaming-ohs-and-ppes.
 SNV's urban sanitation work in Jhenaidah in Bangladesh is primarily being undertaken as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates-funded Citywide Inclusive Sanitation Engagement (CWISE).